Allergic Consumers At Risk From Food Manufacturers And Servers

Personal injury attorneys are used to dealing with product safety issues. But when the product that endangers consumers is their own food, they may feel particularly vulnerable. 

Some 15 million Americans have one or more food allergies. They’re easy to spot as they scrutinize label after label at the supermarket. So just what are they looking for? Most likely, it’s one of the eight foods responsible for 90 percent of major food allergens: 

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy 

Since 2006, federal product labeling mandates have required manufacturers to disclose these major allergens, specifically and in plain language, even if they’re only present in trace amounts. Yet a 2012 ABC News analysis found more than 400 FDA food product recalls for undeclared allergens since 2009. And cross-contamination warnings are voluntary but not required. That’s little comfort to those who can go into life-threatening anaphylaxis from the tiniest whiff of nuts. 

The landscape is especially treacherous for allergic diners when someone else prepares their food. The 2009 federal Food Code guidelines for the food service industry call for increased supervision and training, including allergy awareness. While it’s the customer’s duty to disclose food allergies upfront, food preparers and servers should disclose allergens and act in good faith if they agree to accommodate allergic diners’ needs. 

Protecting food-sensitive diners is particularly critical when a captive audience is involved, such as people at camps, childcare facilities, schools and colleges, where dining options are limited. A recently settled federal case involved a college dining plan that failed to accommodate a student with celiac disease. In that landmark case, the Justice Department ruled that severe food allergies can be classified as disabilities, and that food-sensitive diners are therefore protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

It may take more costly lawsuits to make food providers clean up their act when it comes to food sensitivities.

Topics:  FDA, Food Allergies, Food Labeling, Food Manufacturers, Food Safety

Published In: Personal Injury Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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